Lemon poised for Stampeder rematch
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|Toronto Argonauts Cleo Lemon shares a laugh at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alberta in preparation for Fridays game against the Calgary Stampeders. (Stuart Dryden/QMI Agency)
CALGARY -- Rob Murphy can see it in Cleo Lemon's eyes.
"He is a totally different guy," Murphy, the Argonauts' left tackle, said of his quarterback on Thursday after the Boatmen completed their walk-through at McMahon Stadium.
"Look at his huddle presence alone. You look in his eyes, and he will look you right back. Last year, he was a newbie to this league, and though he had been a player in the NFL, this is a different game.
"The overall confidence he has in his ability is great. You can see it -- he is pushing the ball down the field and taking a few more chances."
For the second year in a row, the Argos will begin the regular season on the road against the Stampeders. On Canada Day in 2010, they were guided -- though that's not really the right word -- by a fresh Lemon, who did not have a highlight-reel day. Lemon completed 16 of 28 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown and also threw an interception in a 30-16 Argos loss.
A year later, and it's back to Lemon as the offence has been simplified for someone whose growth might not have been immeasurable, but certainly tangible.
"It's a lot different," Lemon said when he was asked to compare the feeling he had on the eve of the opener to the one he had a year ago. "Execution-wise, I feel a lot more confident, I actually have a feel of what is going on, on the field. Last year I was working my way through it, saw a lot of different exotic looks I was not comfortable with.
"The most important thing is our timing has improved and we can get the ball out faster. That's what you have been seeing throughout camp."
And when he has not got the ball out faster, Lemon is getting himself out faster. He has been rolling out of the pocket and making completions, something that occurred rarely last year.
It could get interesting for Lemon in the opener, as the Stamps are going with a new pair of cornerbacks in Geoff Tisdale and Greg Fassitt. Tisdale led the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with four interceptions in 2010 and had a team-high eight knockdowns, but Fassitt will be learning on the job in his Canadian Football League debut.
Argos head coach and general manager Jim Barker will say it until he is blue in the face -- the Argos care only about themselves in any game preparation. But he figured that with the departures of Dwight Anderson and Brandon Browner, the Stamps secondary can be exposed.
"The offence needs to (take advantage)," Barker said. "Any time you have rookies playing in your secondary, it is dicey. There are going to be things I am sure they have not seen before. How are they going to react?
"It's a lot different playing in a pre-season game than it is playing on Canada Day in front of a full house and a lot of people on television."
No matter who they are facing, the Argos have no choice but to get a better passing game going. They want to win the Grey Cup, but it's too risky to assume that Cory Boyd alone will lead them to Vancouver at the end of November.
Barker hasn't tied his horse completely to Lemon, because he thinks that Dalton Bell would be capable if called upon and knows that recovery from shoulder surgery won't keep Steven Jyles on the sideline forever.
But for now, Lemon, with maturity riding shotgun, is the man for the Argos.
"He is in total command of what is going on now," Barker said. "He completely is in command of the offence. This week in preparation he sat in and was talking about protections with the linemen and other things he never would have been able to do last year. He is in complete command and understands it, and now it is a matter of going out and executing the things he has done from Day 1. He has been right on top of everything."